I’ve been in Peace Corps South Africa for 21 months now. In just six short months, I’ll completely upend my life as I know it to move back to the U.S. Some days I eagerly await this transition, while others I’m nervous and sad to leave behind my host family, village, organization, friends, and the life I’ve cultivated.
From an early age, I knew I wanted to travel abroad. For me, the answer always lay elsewhere; didn’t matter where, it just wasn’t where I was. My solution to problems was to move to a new apartment, a new job, or a new city. Then I came to Peace Corps, and I was stuck. No such thing as being able to move somewhere new, unless I needed a site change (thankfully I didn’t), decided to end my service, or had to end my service early due to reasons out of my control. So I moved halfway around the world to learn how to be still. And it’s been one of the greatest challenges of my life.
How does one learn to be still? In the West, it’s all about movement, achievement, production, efficiency, etc. This mindset has found its way into every nook and cranny of my subconscious mind. When I first came to Peace Corps, my expectations had a lot to do with what my work would be like and what I would achieve during my service. I expected a lot of progress on my personal growth and some very good projects from myself. As my first year inched by, I began to realize how little I’d accomplished in a Western sense. My sense of self-value slipped. I had defined myself for so long by my achievements that I felt adrift when trying to figure out a new way to judge myself.
At some point during this process, apathy set in. I began to spend much of my time outside of work playing 2048 and Candy Crush. In fact, I was quite addicted to the sense of accomplishment these games provided every time I passed a level or achieved a higher score. The more I began to use these games as a self-confidence booster, the less I enjoyed them. But over time, something important happened: I realized that eventually, I would achieve a higher score or pass to the next level regardless of whether or not I stressed about it. I could waste a bunch of free boosters and feel stress, or I could simply enjoy the games and know that each required a simple combination of luck and patience. I stopped feeling so frustrated when I played the same level in Candy Crush for days on end. A strange way of understanding the mantra, This too shall pass, but it worked for me.
This new thought pattern began to manifest itself in my job and personal life. I began to observe the way that events, emotions, illnesses, and other occurrences arise and eventually fade away. This has been an incredibly timely realization as I’ve been dealing with ambiguous and frustrating GI troubles since May. I came to the capital in July for a series of tests that revealed nothing, and I’m back yet again because we still don’t have a clear diagnosis. Some days, the stress from my GI problems and the uncertainty about its origins and treatment make me feel quite low and convince me that my symptoms will either stay the same or only get worse. But at other times, I remember that all things pass, even this. As frustrating and painful as it’s been, this experience has been a valuable one in pushing me to reconnect with my body. I’ve explored and started using several stress management and embodiment techniques, including meditation and tapping. I’m learning how to be still with my body’s aches and pains and my mind’s fearful thoughts instead of trying to escape.